Sunday, June 23, 2013

Let's Not Let Them Have It

"They won't get it you know Wilson".  So spoke Captain Mainwaring as the Walmington-on-Sea platoon stood on the clifftops near Godfrey's idyllic cottage.  He was speaking of course about England's 'green and pleasant land', and how it would never fall to the Nazis.  How ironic then that when one of Dad's Army's greatest characters, ARP Hodges, passed away recently his passing shared the front pages with news of an even greater threat to the English countryside, our own Government...
 The invidious Nick Boles, the so-called 'Planning Minister'  had made a statement that building new houses would create more happiness than preserving green fields.  Of his own Grantham constituency, which is to build 7000 houses on Green Belt land, (more than a third the current size of Grantham), Mr Boles said "If we want to hang on to the services we have, like our hospitals, and attract a Marks and Spencers and a John Lewis we must build more and more houses".  It is difficult to imagine how exactly Mr Boles' brain works, if indeed it does.  The kind of population decline that might cause a hospital to be no longer needed, and therefore close down due to lack of patients, would be on a scale not seen since the Black Death.  I would imagine too that the current 18,000 households in Grantham would be happier if their local beauty spots remained so, and were not squashed flat by a John Lewis and an M & S dropping out of the blue.  When human happiness becomes measured by whether or not there we can get to a John Lewis shop it'll be time for us all to head for the hills.
If such banal reasons for burying acres of Green Belt irretrievably under concrete and tarmac were not enough, he was at it again this week.  Now he is actually on record as stating that developers should be allowed to build on fields that are 'boring'!  Well I find you boring Mr Boles, can I build something on you? 

I find offensive your notion that 'a field of wheat is boring and environmentally uninteresting', and therefore in your twisted logic would be better built on.  Whether wheat is boring or not is largely irrelevant, people eat it, its what bread is made out of or didn't you know that.  Wheat stubble after harvest also sustains many of our songbirds through the winter, especially linnets and skylarks.  Added to this is the havens that field margins provide.  I have just finished a breeding birds survey in Lincolnshire which contains vast vistas of 'boring' fields, but over three months I have delighted in thousands of recordings of yellowhammers, whitethroats, skylarks, sedge warblers, and more; plus insects and wild flowers galore in some superb hedge and marginal habitats.  It is a pity our 'planning minister' (I have decided not to even grant him capitals) is such an ignoramus he cannot perceive of any of this.
In one particular corner I came across one of those many poignant monuments that dot the Lincolnshire countryside, one to an RAF crew lost in action.  Their Halifax came down in this field, one not boring but beautiful.  As I read the epitaph invisible skylarks filled the air while a whitethroat rattled away in the hedgerow.  The bees went about their business from flower to flower and the badgers in the sett I had seen were sleeping off the night's adventures.  This is what they were fighting for, all those brave boys of the few.  To protect this precious land.  It was ARP Hodges who extolled 'Put that light out'.  I wish someone would put Mr Boles' lights out, before he extinguishes the flame of the British countryside forever.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Cloud Cuckooland

After an eventful day bird surveying on the Lincolnshire coast I was heading back to the van when I came across this fabulous creation.  Whatever could it be?  Modern art?  Alien landing station?  Well the noticeboard revealed that it was a 'Cloud Bar', and that it was "the only purpose-built cloud bar in Britain" (you don't say!).  The board displayed pictures of clouds and their names, and invited anyone devoid of anything more meaningful to do to spot and identify clouds!
Alien artwork?
 The mirrors on sticks were to 'bring the clouds down to earth', but there were no instructions and despite much twiddling and rotating I failed to achieve this momentous outcome.  I looked around the sky and spied a cloud, the board seemed to suggest it was a 'cirro-stratus' so that was one in the bag.  The board also said that 'sometimes there are more than one type of cloud in the sky at once', but I was wary of having too much fun in one day and wondered whether to push my luck and look for another.  Throwing caution to the wind I looked heavenwards again but found only some aeroplane contrails, though these were undeniably more interesting than the cloud.
The one barely there cloud, a thrilling sight.
 That just left the giant concrete pastry-cutters, what the hell were they for?  They turned out to be proper cloud-spotter's seats apparently, information that just demanded a trial.  Once on I decided that I had never sat on anything more uncomfortable and awkward in my life, it was a struggle to just stay on never mind admire clouds!
Jeez, I hope something interesting happens soon, I can't hold on much longer!
 I wondered how much the council had paid for this creation.  The 'mirrors' were pitted and opaque from being sand-blasted by the elements, the 'seats' were unsittable on, and there was never likely to be a queue forming to have a go.  Still I expect the locals were delighted to have the only one in Britain, despite the beach road being in dire need of resurfacing. 
I could not imagine that cloud-spotting was going to overtake birdwatching as a popular hobby anytime soon, not after seeing more cuckoos that morning than I could shake a meadow pipit at.  I had seen three in total, with the last one giving some great close up views.  At first it had flown in to land in marram grass on the beach ahead of me.  It flushed when I was almost upon it, about eight feet away.  It hurtled into some sea buckthorn, and then into the hawthorn in the photo where it called for ages, while harassed by small birds.  Which one would be parasitised?  The commonest passerine here is whitethroat, not the most regular cuckoo foster parent.  Others include sedge warbler, dunnocks, and a few meadow pipits among the contenders.  Incidentally I have no idea what it was doing in the marram, I could see nothing where it had been when I looked.  I'll ruminate on the possibilities next time I'm lying around looking at the clouds.
A cuckoo, more clout than a cloud!